Sunday, May 14, 2006

Goliath's teeth

click photo to enlarge
The thin layer of soil beneath our feet is vital to human existence. About 90% of our food, livestock feed, fibre and fuel derive from it. More than that, it affects the landscape we live in, is vital in our water supply, provides us with minerals, and holds the record of much of our past. It's a sobering thought that it takes between 2,000 and 10,000 years for a full soil profile - one that can be used for agriculture - to develop. This is roughly comparable with the historical (as opposed to archaeological) record of man. And given that fact it's vital that we value our soil, because if it's lost or damaged, it can't easily or quickly be replaced.

When mankind first saw the benefits of settling down and tilling the soil, the world's population was small, land was plentiful, and agricultural methods were inefficient. However, in the past 300 years land has begun to be used much more intensively, as the "agricultural revolution" which began in the eighteenth century, developed and spread across the world. Today soil faces many threats. In Germany about 120 hectares a day were lost in 1997 due to surface sealing (building etc.). In Russia 57% of agricultural land is subject to strong erosion. Acidification is widespread in Europe, and the extent of localised pollution of the soil by industry is becoming increasingly understood. Throughout the world farmers are having to recognise the degradation that comes from intensive use and the application of chemicals.

The photograph shows a detail of an agricultural roller called "Goliath" by its manufacturer. It's an appropriate name since, when towed by a tractor, it can do the work that formerly took many men much longer. The reduction in the farm workforce, the increase in farm sizes, and rampant mechanisation, have all worked to distance people from the soil, and this has further contributed to its degradation. I noticed this roller as I walked along a footpath past a farm, and was attracted by the pattern of the rings of saw-like teeth, the pitted surface and the rust spots. I chose a diagonal view to introduce a note of instability to the composition.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen